a blessing for one who is exhausted

Posted by on June 2, 2010

A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted

by John O’Donohue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The ride you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

* * *

I am not exhausted to this extent right now, but I felt drawn to this poem when I came across it this week. I had an accident a few weeks ago, on a Friday morning. I was standing in front of a chest of drawers, about to get out the clothes I was going to wear, when I felt a prick and a snap, and, within a matter of seconds, realized I had stepped on a sewing needle and part of the needle remained in my foot. A few more seconds passed and I realized that I was not going to be able to remove it at home, and would need to go to a walk-in clinic, possibly the emergency room. It sounds agonizing, but truthfully the pain itself was more like a small splinter. I sustained plenty of splinters in my feet as a child and remember my parents removing them with tweezers. That’s what this felt like, except that the solution so far exceeded the power of tweezers as to astound me. It turned into a very big deal. From the emergency room, where x-rays showed that the needle was lodged very far from the surface of my foot, I was referred to a podiatrist. But because it was Friday, I had to wait the duration of the weekend with the needle in my foot for that appointment. It really was not as bad as it sounds. I did most things normally, being careful not to put pressure on the area of my foot near my pinky toe.

On Monday I found out I would have to have surgery to remove the needle, including light sedation. It all ended with three stitches and a very hyperbolic, loony toon-esque bandage covering my entire foot, which I was instructed to keep dry for ten days. In the end, it was not really the pain, which was just a dull soreness, but the inconvenience and the disruption of normal life that was the hardest to endure, and the most unbelievable aspect of the experience– how a split-second mishap can spin out into such an elaborate consequence. This, by the way, is at least partly why I have not been keeping up with this blog.

All is well with my foot now. I do not think that John O’Donohue’s poem is about physical exhaustion, even though, with two little children ages three and one, I am always dealing with physical exhaustion in one degree or another. But the poem is about mental and emotional exhaustion, which is more private than a foot injury. Life does go along sometimes in an insular way, but I am beginning to realize that there is a constant potential surrounding it that can press in at any moment. This is because, quite simply, my life is not like a Norman Rockwell painting, no matter how family photos appear. And neither is the life of anyone else. And although I can publicly tell the story about injuring my foot, there are always at least five other less tangible trials pressing inward that are not o.k. to broadcast. And there is always the potential for life to get out of sync, to get ahead of your soul and travel too fast over false ground. And so it is always possible for the proverbial rug to be pulled beneath your feet, or a literal needle to be hiding in the literal rug, which is why we have to depend so completely on God, which we sometimes forget until something happens, like a foot injury.

Poetry Wednesday

  1. amber
    June 2, 2010

    Oh, I think you posted this for me! I so needed to hear these words–I would like to imitate the habit of twilight and be silent of spirit like stone. (It would also be just fine with me if I never had to see my mother-in-law again, but I digress.)

    Just the title of the poem itself was a blessing.

    I'm glad to hear that you are feeling better. I have become vigilant about needles on the floor ever since we spoke, of course I've not been industrious enough to get any needles out lately. I miss you Julia! In fact I thought of you as I read the end of the poem, "Learn to linger around someone of ease
    Who feels they have all the time in the world." And while it's hard to feel that way with children around, I remember often feeling that way in your presence.

    Thank you again!

  2. Molly Sabourin
    June 2, 2010

    That is quite a story, Julia! You are right – it's shocking how one smallish occurence can, in a split second, quickly snowball into a great big to-do. There are few things that can drag me south emotionally like being forced to slow down. Yes, this poem and post were a blessing to me as well. Sometimes just having my greatest frustrations recognized, and so expertly expanded upon, can bring me much needed peace and courage. Thank you!

  3. annajouj
    June 2, 2010

    For one, Julia–I am so sorry to hear of your needle ordeal! But glad all is well.
    This poem came at a timely point for me, as it did for many I think: interesting too, as I have felt like my weariness is rather silly, in the grand scheme of things [i.e. compared to all the woes in the world].
    At any rate, thank you . . .
    P.S. This is my new "identity" as I have moved my blog to the WordPress site now: feel free to make note of the change, if you like 🙂
    P.P.S. I am grateful to Speaking of Faith for 1st introducing me to O'Donahue's fine poetry!

  4. Beth
    June 2, 2010

    That is truly a lovely poem. I would love to take in the silence of the stone and am certainly glad I have plenty of people who surround me and put me at ease. I do, however, have one three year old boy who is beginning to make my eye twitch. I can hear him running around his room instead of napping. Doesn't he know I need to get things done and am leaving for Ethiopia in seven days? Probably not. Must go attend to him. Thank you for your post.

  5. Kris Livovich
    June 3, 2010

    "Be excessively gentle with yourself"

    That was the line I need. When forced to slow down by things outside of my control I rail and wail and become angry – gentleness would help.

    What a crazy pin story! My two year old found a lost pin with his foot a few weeks ago – but not as dramatically as you did. I'm glad all is well, and you have a good story to tell from it.

  6. Jenny Schroedel
    June 3, 2010


    This might just be the most beautiful poem I have ever read. I will return to it again and again. I think I'll have to share it with the women's reading group I lead at our church.

    Ow about the needle. You brave, honest soul. I love how you keep trying to minimize it in this post. But it awful to go through that with two small kids. I am so glad you're okay, and sorely wish I could see a photo of your "Looneytunes-esque cast."